by Patrick J. Buchanan – January 25, 2003
Declaring the imposition of the death penalty to be “arbitrary, capricious … and immoral,” Illinois’ exiting, scandal-plagued Gov. George Ryan commuted the death sentence of every rapist-murderer and child-killer in the state.
This decision “commands respect,” cooed the Washington Post. Gov. Ryan “leaves Illinois a better place.” From the rejoicing in the penitentiaries of Illinois, 167 murderers agree.
One suspects the people of Illinois do not. For it is Ryan, who in trying to salvage what remains of his reputation, has committed an act at once arbitrary, capricious, immoral and anti-democratic. Pandering to an elite that is obsessed with the death penalty, Ryan abused his power and showed manifest contempt for the will of the people who elected him as a supporter of capital punishment.
Again and again, in Illinois and across America, people have voted to retain this ultimate sanction for the most vicious and vile killers among us. Our Constitution provides for a death penalty. For centuries, it has been a part of our criminal justice system. When Illinoisans elected Ryan, they were voting to retain it. Every killer on death row is there because a jury, after hearing all the evidence, voted unanimously to put him there.
“A decision on who gets the death penalty in the United States is as arbitrary as who gets hit by a bolt of lightning,” declares Ryan. This is demagoguery. To get hit by a bolt of lightning, one need only be outdoors. To get a death sentence in Illinois, one must commit an act of deliberate murder against a citizen of Illinois.
Ryan even played the race card. “Two-thirds of the inmates on death row were African-American,” he said, suggesting they were there for racist reasons. Why did he not mention the percentage of murders committed by African-Americans? Some 97 percent of death-row inmates were men. Was that because Illinois juries hate men?
Ryan announced his decision to a wildly cheering crowd at the Northwestern University Law School. Families of the victims of the soon-to-be-reprieved killers were not invited.
“I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death,” said the governor in conscious echo of Justice Harry Blackmun â€“ who became famous, 30 years ago, for his Roe v. Wade decision, derided by his fellow justices as “Harry’s abortion.” In Roe, Blackmun permitted an exception to his blanket opposition to the death penalty. Unborn children may be killed at the whim of their parents. And since Roe, 40 million unborn babies have gone to the chopping block. This is the morality George Ryan and his ilk are imposing upon us.
“The Legislature couldn’t reform it, lawmakers won’t repeal it, and I won’t stand for it â€“ I must act,” said Ryan.
What pomposity. Ryan does not speak for Illinois. He was not even popular enough to be renominated by his own party. His record cost the GOP the state. Yet because a legislature rejects his “reforms” and refuses to repeal capital punishment, Ryan plays king and turns all the inmates on death row out into the general prison population. If any convict or guard is murdered by these released killers, the blood will be on Ryan’s hands.
“How can one person have all of this authority and power?” asks John Van Schaik, a Chicago fireman whose brother, a cop, was murdered on the South Side. “He is making a mockery and a farce out of our legal system and our prison system.”
And our political system. Though Americans, in survey after survey, support prayer in school, halting illegal immigration and retaining the death penalty, they are told they may not see their will enacted into law. Even when they vote against the moral code of the elite, unelected judges and justices abuse their power and impose it upon us.
In one lifetime, America has been reshaped, undemocratically, into a nation that would, in many ways, not be recognizable to mid-20th-century Americans. It is happening in Europe, as well â€“ the steady transfer of power to anointed elites answerable to no one.
“Here, sir, the people rule!” Americans boasted in the 19th century. In the 21st, the claim is a joke.
Elected as a conservative Republican, Ryan long ago forfeited the support of Illinois conservatives. They are through with him. Power slipping away, facing possible indictment, he sold out to an establishment that alone may be able to save him from ending his days eating off plastic trays alongside the murderers he helped to evade justice. George Ryan is more pathetic than heroic.